TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban greets the question with a smile.
What was more daunting -- the expectations of his father while working at Big Nick's service station as a kid growing up in the heart of West Virginia coal-mining country, or the expectations of coaching football at a place where anything other than a national championship is greeted with all the enthusiasm of getting a lump of coal for Christmas?
In his ninth season at Alabama, Saban has the Crimson Tide back in the College Football Playoff for the second straight year, but it's been ages since they last won a national championship. We're talking all the way back in 2012.
Welcome to coaching football at Alabama.
"I don't really know how to answer that," said Saban, nodding his head slowly at a question that's probably harder for him to answer than most might expect.
"I was really a pretty happy kid working at that gas station, but my dad [was on me] all the time. I didn't like that sometimes, but I always sort of knew he was trying to make me better. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to coach or be the coach at some place where they didn't have high expectations for what they thought you could accomplish."
Saban didn't just pump gas at his father's station, which was located about nine miles south of Fairmont, West Virginia. From the time he was 11, he cleaned windows, checked the oil, waxed cars and did it all to perfection -- or else.
"You learned to pay attention to detail and do the little things right," Saban said. "With my dad, that's the way you did everything."
Big Nick died of a heart attack in 1973 when Saban was just 22, but his legacy has helped to shape Saban's championship-laden coaching career and has also served as a blueprint for Saban on how to handle a pressure cooker unlike any other in college football.
After all, he has already won three national championships at Alabama, and in five of the past seven seasons, he has either brought home a national title trophy to Tuscaloosa or had the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff. But when Alabama lost to Ohio State in the playoff a year ago, and then lost in Week 3 at home this season to Ole Miss, the narrative suddenly became that Alabama's once-mighty ship was taking on water.
"Playing at Alabama's not for everybody," Alabama senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. "A lot of people can't handle the pressure, the pressure Coach puts on us and the pressure that comes with playing in this program. Nobody handles it better than he does, and that filters down to the team. It's all about having the right mindset. You don't worry about the next day when you play for Coach Saban. You worry about what's right in front of you."
The fact that Saban is nearing his 10th season at Alabama is a stunner for many. He'd never been anywhere (as a head coach) for longer than five years prior to coming to Tuscaloosa. And the more he has won at Alabama, the more everybody talks about how he's destined to go somewhere else and seek a new challenge, be it in the NFL or a premier college destination that needs rebuilding.
Saban is admittedly a builder by nature. Had he been five years younger, he might have gone to Texas a couple of years ago. But at this point in his life, he simply doesn't see another coaching move.
"No, I really don't. I don't see it ever happening, and I know every year somebody has me going somewhere else," Saban said. "I think a lot of it isn't just about the coaching part. What people don't understand is they forget you're a person. They forget you have a wife and two kids and a grandbaby, and they all live in Birmingham. They all work here. My wife goes to Birmingham five times a week. My mom lives in Birmingham now after moving from Myrtle Beach.
"It's not just the job. A lot of people don't get that. My life is here."
Even for a guy as driven as Saban, there's a certain wear and tear that comes with trying to feed the monster at Alabama, although it's a monster that Saban has gone a long way toward creating. But it's not to the point that he has lost his zeal.
"I guess I don't really think about it that way," Saban said. "If anything, it's trying to always be able to overcome the obstacles to continue to be that successful. That's what is always on my mind, knowing what it's going to take, whether it's in recruiting, staff or internal attitude and chemistry, to be able to accomplish what we all want to accomplish.
"But I know a day is coming where that standard can't be met. You cannot keep that up. There's going to be some period of time at some point in time where you're not at that level. If you look at every coach's record, it's just not possible to sustain that level of success all the time."
And when that day comes, what does it mean for Saban?
"It's the question I asked when Mark Richt got fired," Saban said. "They asked me what I thought about it, and I said, 'The better question would be: What's going to happen to me when I lose three games?' I was being sarcastic, but look at where we are right now in college football. That really bothers me about our profession, to think about the good job Les Miles has done for a long time, and to think they were trying to fire him. And then Mark Richt, who has done a good job at Georgia for a long time, and he goes 9-3 and they fire him. You know, 9-3 used to be pretty good.
"When we lost the Ole Miss game this year, you would have thought the sky was falling. So, yes, it's really, really hard to sustain that level of success."
Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells used to say that the longer he coached, the more agonizing the losses became. He'd muse that there were only two things in football -- winning and misery.
Saban is 35-5 in his past 40 games against SEC competition, but he can certainly relate to that.
"I hate losing more than I like winning," Saban said. "There's no doubt about that. The feeling that sticks with you when you fail or don't have success or lose, that's what drives you to keep trying to do it the right way. I don't know if it's fear of failure as much as it is the fear of the feeling of failing. You just don't want to have that feeling of what it's like to lose. I tell the players that."
When a coach, even one as successful as Saban, nears his mid-60s, there's always going to be the inevitable question: How much longer are you going to coach?
Saban, 64, isn't sure he will still be coaching when he's 70, but is quick to add, "I can't imagine what I'd be doing if I weren't coaching football. That's why I don't even think about it. I'm not the type that can do nothing. I have to be challenged. I have to be doing something, so I have no plans of not doing this."
In the run-up to this year's showdown with Michigan State on New Year's Eve in Arlington, Texas, Saban has been heartened by the way this team has handled its business.
"The biggest difference in this team and the last two years is this team seems to have a little more want-to about them," Saban said. "They want to be great. Some of our teams here have been complacent, like last year I was disappointed in the way we prepared for the Ohio State game. We had too many people not happy at the Sugar Bowl about having to practice and doing what we had to do. It was a little bit of a grind. These guys don't look at it that way. They're excited to be in the playoff. They're excited to still be playing.
"The attitude part, I like a lot better. There's a better disposition. That doesn't mean we're going to play well in the game or anything else, but there's a better disposition and we're going about it the right way."